Last of an eight-part series
With the absence of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement threatening to delay the start of the 2011 free-agent signing period, PFW identifies the players whose contracts expire March 3 and analyzes the likely free-agent game plan for each of the NFC East teams.
The number of accrued seasons of service is shown in parentheses following each prospective free agent's name. The new CBA will dictate how many accrued seasons are required to qualify as an unrestricted free agent.
Unsigned players: S Alan Ball (3), OT Alex Barron (6), DE Stephen Bowen (5), OT Doug Free (4), QB Chris Greisen (4), DE Jason Hatcher (5), WR Jesse Holley (1), WR Sam Hurd (5), OG Kyle Kosier (9), CB Bryan McCann (1), S Gerald Sensabaugh (6), DE Marcus Spears (6), ILB Leon Williams (4).
Analysis: They must make a decision on their three five-techniques — Bowen, Spears and Hatcher — who are due to hit free agency. Spears could be gone to another 3-4 team, likely at too high of a price. This also could be a position the Cowboys seek to upgrade through the draft, so they could be more willing to let at least one of them walk. The offensive line is also an area of need, with age and injuries having deteriorated the position last season. Kosier might not be brought back. Signing Free appears to be a long-term priority, although he might be restricted depending on the new CBA. This is a position where you could see outside help brought in. Head coach Jason Garrett was mum on what positions the team might attack in free agency. The secondary also bears watching. Cornerback and safety are both top needs, and there are only so many holes they can fill through the draft. Would they get involved with Nnamdi Asomugha or one of the other top DBs available? Never count out Jerry Jones when it comes to money.
New York Giants
Unsigned players: MLB Chase Blackburn (6), WR Will Blackmon (5), OG Kevin Boothe (5), TE Kevin Boss (4), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (4), CB Courtney Brown (3), OLB Keith Bulluck (11), WR Michael Clayton (7), DT Barry Cofield (5), S Deon Grant (11), WR Derek Hagan (5), S Michael Johnson (4), DE Mathias Kiwanuka (5), OT Jamon Meredith (2), TE Bear Pascoe (1), WR Steve Smith (4), QB Jim Sorgi (7), DE Dave Tollefson (4), RB Danny Ware (3), OLB Gerris Wilkinson (5).
Analysis: Re-signing their own players might be the top priority. Bradshaw, Smith and Boss have been important figures on offense; Cofield, Kiwanuka and Grant have played big roles on defense; Hixon's loss was felt as the special teams broke down last season. Bradshaw was a player the Giants considered using the transition or franchise tag on but ultimately decided against it. That said, they'd like him back, despite his too-frequent fumbling. If there's a player to be worried about, it could be Cofield. He played well and was an underrated factor in the Giants' success up front last season, although teams are likely to see how good he was on tape. Defensive tackle is a tough position to fill adequately in the NFL, and the market could blow up if the Giants can't re-sign Cofield before free agency. Injuries to Smith, Kiwanuka and Boss make it tougher to determine whether the team will pay full price to have their services back.
Unsigned players: DE Victor Abiamiri (4), PK David Akers (12, transitioned), LB Stewart Bradley (4), RB Eldra Buckley (2), OG-C Nick Cole (5), MLB Omar Gaither (5), CB Antoine Harris (4), RB Jerome Harrison (5), CB Ellis Hobbs (6), OG Max Jean-Gilles (5), OLB Akeem Jordan (4), DE Bobby McCray (7), S Quintin Mikell (8), CB Dimitri Patterson (5), P Sav Rocca (4), OLB Ernie Sims (5), QB Michael Vick (9, franchised), OG Reggie Wells (8).
Analysis: The Eagles placed the exclusive franchise tag on Vick, who won't be going anywhere. Whether he signs his tender offer — which will be north of $17 million for next season — or works out a long-term deal in the interim remains to be seen. The other tag target was Akers, who received the transition marker. Despite his poor playoff-game performance, Akers was excellent in 2010. The Eagles clearly want him back, too. Spending big in free agency is a distinct possibility. Right cornerback was an area of need, and Patterson, who held it down last season, might be back as a reserve only. Hobbs has said he will retire. That could put the Eagles in the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes. They have spent big before on high-priroity positions, including corner, so don't rule it out. Bradley took a step backward coming off knee surgery, but he's a young player with promise. It's not clear if he ends up inside or as a "Sam" linebacker. It's not clear if the Eagles would bring back Sims; they likely wouldn't do it at big money, as they do not value lienbacker as much as other positions and he had a disappointing first season in Philly.
Unsigned players: LB H.B. Blades (4), OT Jammal Brown (6), CB Phillip Buchanon (9), S Reed Doughty (5), WR Mike Furrey (8), DE Kedric Golston (5), QB Rex Grossman (8), CB DeAngelo Hall (7), OT Stephon Heyer (4), ILB Rocky McIntosh (5), WR Santana Moss (10), C Casey Rabach (10), CB Carlos Rogers (6), CB Byron Westbrook (2), DE Chris Wilson (4).
Analysis: For years, the Redskins have talked about a more patient approach: stockpiling draft picks, building from the bottom up and taking care of their own players financially. But they have taken a different approach in almost each of the past 10 offseasons, signing big-name free agents and trading draft picks for players, which has left them short in the draft. And because they are short again in terms of picks — lacking third- and fourth-rounders — they might have to use free agency as a crutch. Another reason: the failed acquisitions of DT Albert Haynesworth and QB Donovan McNabb, both of whom have a better than 50-50 chance of playing elsewhere next season. With the Redskins not likely to recoup those picks from those players, free agency becomes that much more important. And in addition to needing to determine who their franchise QB is, they also must find better pieces for the 3-4 defense they're running. Coordinator Jim Haslett simply didn't have the parts he needed for that scheme. Three cornerbacks are free agents, led by Rogers. He's the priority. Moss appears to be gone, with his contract having expired, despite coming off a strong season. Decisions must be made on Rabach and McIntosh, as well as Brown, although all could be back.